Saturday, December 20, 2008

Regretting Endings

It has been a full day. And a sad one. My dad's brother, my uncle, died last night. He went into the hospital and didn't come out, so it brings up memories of my mother's death. And it's just sad. My father has lost three family members in the space of a year: my mom and two of his brothers. My friend Evine's husband just sat down and died unexpectedly several years ago and her brother and sister died unexpectedly in the same week. I asked her how she dealt with it all. She said, "You grieve. You don't try to repress it. You grieve. And then you go on."

Not easy. Just necessary. Tonight we had dinner with a woman whose nephew was struck and killed by a train last week. He was 23 years old. How does a family deal with that? I don't know.

I came home and learned my uncle had died. I thought of all the time I had spent with him when I was a child. I used to go on camping trips with him, my aunt, and my cousin, who was my age. My uncle had a temper and he would get very angry when he was driving. My aunt sat very close to him, like they were still sweethearts—which I think they always were. And my uncle would swerve the car (with the camper attached) and curse out errant drivers. I did my best not to annoy him.

Once my cousins and I were playing darts in his garage and one of my throws was a little off and the dart hit the windshield of his car. Everyone else ran away. I stared at the dot on my uncle's windshield. Everyone knew that we were not to touch any part of his car. I thought about not telling him, but I knew he'd see the dot and someone would catch hell. So I waited outside for him to come home from work so I could tell him. He hated work. We all knew his job was not something he liked. (He got much more mellow once he retired.) I waited outside of the garage and paced and bit my fingernails and waited for him. I knew he would scream and yell and I would be in big trouble.

He drove up and got out of his truck carrying his black lunch box. He was wearing his work clothes. They were blue or khaki green. I can't remember. I cleared my throat and told him what had happened. He didn't say anything. He opened the door to the garage and went inside. I followed him. He looked at the dot on the windshield, ran his fingers over it.

I can't remember what he said. Something like, "It's not so bad." Or maybe it was, "All right then." I don't know. I only remember he softened when I told him. He wasn't angry. I thought back then that he admired me for telling him. I don't know if that was true. I don't even know if he remembered it. But I know that I felt more relaxed around him after that.

He told me once that he and my aunt used to ride around on a motorcyle together, dressed in leather, and I loved that image of them. It's difficult to imagine them apart.

Endings are so difficult.

I watched a DVD tonight of Bill Moyers interviewing Maya Lin. One of the things they talked about was the Vietnam War Memorial. She said that we are a young country, and Americans pretend that death doesn't exist. In other countries, they mourn the dead. There is ceremony and ritual. People wail and mourn. (Of course, she said it better than that.) I thought that was an interesting observation. I certainly don't know how to mourn. It took me twenty years to get over the death of my dog and pony. I couldn't look at a photo of Linda or my mother for a year after they died.

There are some times when I wish I never left home, and this is one of those times. I miss that I am no longer a part of the lives of my relatives. They were the people I spent most of my life with until I was eighteen. And then I went away.

Regret is a nasty thing. I just looked the word up. It comes from the Old French "regreter" which means to "bewail the dead."

Perhaps our regrets are too silent. Maybe we should wail and rend our garments.

I don't know.


Will Shetterly said...

I'm very sorry. If you need to wail, wail. This is a good place for that.

Anonymous said...

Tonight is the first night of Channukah. We will remember you and your unce when we light the candles.
Wail with the coyotes.

kerrdelune said...

I'm sorry, Sister Kim, and I wish I was there with you to give gentle Yuletide hugs and brew fragrant pots of herbal tea. When I light my Yuletide candle tonight, I shall think of you and waft healing thoughts your way. Much love, Cate

Kim Antieau said...

Thank you all for your kindnesses! They mean a great deal.

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